Looking after mental health when remote working
Let’s start with a simple premise: mental health is a spectrum.
In the past few years, the importance of mental health issues has risen to greater prominence as people begin to understand that it isn’t simply labeling hospitalized conditions but rather a range of feelings that many of us deal with daily. Celebrities, mainstream media, and other outlets have highlighted the importance of mental health to us all. Knowing how to acknowledge and address mental health issues can be critical not just for your health but for your happiness and productivity.
2020 has been a challenging year and maintaining mental health when remote working is just one of the key challenges the modern worker faces.
Extended periods of working from home and disruptions during COVID-19 could be highly stressful for some employees. Some people may be anxious about their work prospects or cash flow sources. Others may feel isolated working remotely for so long. And parents with young children may struggle to work with supervising their children’s home-based learning arrangements.
In this post, we will outline the mental health risks you should be aware of while remote working and tips for employers to make their online workforce feel more connected during these times.
Mental health issues to look out for
For those of us who are accustomed to the micro-interactions and steady bustle of office life, remote work can be a jarring new reality. From having to work in a space normally used for living, to dealing with frequent video calling, this new social distancing form of work can lead us to a few key mental health problems if not managed.
Feeling isolated at home can be one of the hardest mental health issues to deal with. The sense of disconnection from your colleagues, from social interaction, and from the balance in your day. In fact, research has shown that isolation can be “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.” Another study found that for those who normally work remotely, 19% report loneliness.
There are already some great examples of companies fighting against loneliness to bring their virtual workforce closer together. For example, GitLab encourages setting ‘virtual coffee breaks’ during work hours for its team to foster collaboration and create a more comfortable work environment. Revelry has also dedicated a specific “watercooler” channel to encourage break-time chatter.
A 2019 survey by cloud infrastructure company Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnt out, with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office, and 40% feeling as though they needed to contribute more than their in-office colleagues.
What exactly is burnout? According to HelpGuide, it’s “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress”.
To support your mental health and those around you, it’s important to take initiative in maintaining wellbeing within a home workspace. This includes creating a comfortable and private place in your home to work, incorporating exercise breaks and social interaction into your routine, and other strategies mentioned in our previous post. You can even take steps as simple as turning off email notifications before and after working hours and maintaining a normal sleep schedule will help maintain a feeling of normalcy
Lastly and more seriously, depression isn’t just about feeling down. It can lead to angry outbursts, frustration, loss of interest, increased food craving and even sleep disturbances. Whilst most of us wouldn’t label ourselves ‘depressed’, it’s important to listen to your body’s rhythms if you feel yourself slipping into one of the states mentioned above.
How employers can help
Helping others with mental health issues always starts with a conversation. Sometimes the mere gesture of acknowledging and talking about someone’s problems can lead them on a path to brighter days. Here are some of the more formalized ways companies can play their part in maintaining a happier remote workforce:
Do regular check-ins with employees
This should take place at least once a week. Managers should have casual chats with their team, being honest and asking how they’re coping (and how you might be able to help). Leaders can also encourage the team to support one another. You can even engage in ‘after work’ chats or activities.
Maintain a circle of social support
Let everyone team know it’s ok to take time off as normal throughout the day and reach out to their families and friends via video conferencing or messaging applications regularly
Stay active and healthy
Simple tips like getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily. Eating a balanced diet to strengthen immunity. Exercising daily. Picking up a new activity or skill. Master simple relaxation techniques